Happy Endings is an oddly structured, metafictional story; a series of possible scenarios all leading the characters to the same ending. Atwood uses humour and practical wisdom to critique both romantic fiction and contemporary society, and to make the point that it is not the end that is important, it is the journey that truly matters in both life and writing.
Metafiction is fiction that deals, often playfully and self-referentially, with the writing of fiction or its conventions (website 1). Margaret Atwood is clearly mocking the conventions of romantic fiction throughout the entire story, beginning with the third line "if you want a happy ending, try A." Each scenario includes the idea that "you'll still end up with A" despite the rest of the story, and this indicates that romantic fiction lacks creativity and gives us the ending we want and expect; a happy one. Atwood is also taking a stab at the readers of this genre, who are not only satisfied, but blissfully content with an ending that may not be realistic, but is easy and fun to take in. With statements like "this is the thin part of the plot, but it can be dealt with later" in scenario C, she demonstrates how romantic fiction is full of fluff. In scenario D she writes "they clasp each other, wet and dripping and grateful" a wonderfully hokey idea. Situation E clearly shows how this genre lacks character development, and one could fill in the blanks with manufactured ideas to form a piece of work. She considers romantic fiction and the belief that these lame stories are realistic, ridiculous.
The very structure of Atwood's story is a critique of literary form, as she completely abandons convention. This piece has no real structure, and plots are laid out as a list ...
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...tructure, including the complete lack of realism of romantic fiction in less than 1500 words. The "stretch in between...is the hardest to do anything with" is doctrine that applies to fiction writing as much as it does to life. With the statement "[plots] are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try How and Why" Atwood is solidifying her case that it is not the ending that matters, it is how we, or the characters get there. The ending is unimportant because no matter how you slice it, "John and Mary die. John and Mary die. John and Mary die." And so do the rest of us.
Margaret Atwood: "Happy Endings" from Good Bones and Simple Murders, 1983, 1992, 1994 O.W. Toad Ltd.
Web site 1: Source: The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company- (definition of metafiction)
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Academic colleagues like, David Greenburg, would have been exasperated, part from envy of McCullough’s ability in not only story telling but to sell and he would object to the approach of this book. The colleagues would tear at the lack of compelling rationale for an overused topic, as well as the scene setting, and meager analysis.
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Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake." Studies in the Novel 43.4 (2011): 470. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Mar. 2014.
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Newman, Karen. "Can This Marriage be Saved: Jane Austen Makes Sense of an Ending." ELH 50.4 (1983): 693-710.
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At the outset, Atwood gives the reader an exceedingly basic outline of a story with characters John and Mary in plotline A. As we move along to the subsequent plots she adds more detail and depth to the characters and their stories, although she refers back with “If you want a happy ending, try A” (p.327), while alluding that other endings may not be as happy, although possibly not as dull and foreseeable as they were in plot A. Each successive plot is a new telling of the same basic story line; labeled alphabetically A-F; the different plots describe how the character’s lives are lived with all stories ending as they did in A. The stories tell of love gained or of love lost; love given but not reciprocated. The characters experience heartache, suicide, sadness, humiliation, crimes of passion, even happiness; ultimately all ending in death regardless of “the stretch in between”. (p.329)
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